The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) announced its opposition to the potential appointment of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as Secretary of Defense, citing a long list of actions Hagel has taken that raise alarms about his failure to support Israel.
Hagel is said to be the leading contender to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is expected to step down early next year.
The RJC outlined a number of instances highlighting Hagel’s anti-Israel record: In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hizbullah a terrorist organization; In October 2000, Hagel was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel; November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to continue his policy of not meeting with Yasser Arafat until he took steps to end the violence against Israel; In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 Senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bush to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections; June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to emphasize Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.
Additionally, in August 2006, Anti-Israel group CAIR wrote in praise of Hagel saying, “Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel…”
In March 2009, Hagel was one of 10 former and current foreign policy officials who signed a letter urging President Obama to open direct talks with Hamas, while in May 2006 Hagel wrote an article for The Financial Times explicitly ruling out the military option against Iran that President Obama claims to have “kept on the table.”
“The political reality is … that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” Hagel told former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller in a 2006 interview. “I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel.”
Hagel also said he didn’t think he had ever signed one of the letters the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) regularly circulates to demonstrate support for Israel or tough stands against its enemies such as Iran.
“I didn’t sign the letter because it was a stupid letter,” he said in the interview with Miller, referring to one such memorandum.
Hagel ignited further ire from the Jewish community when he dismissed criticism against his inadequate support of Israel.
“I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” he said during his interview with Miller.
“I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that,” the senator said.
“Chuck Hagel’s statements and actions regarding Israel have raised serious concerns for many Americans who care about Israel,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “The Jewish community and every American who supports a strong U.S.-Israel relationship have cause for alarm if the President taps Hagel for such an important post.”
“The appointment of Chuck Hagel would be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel,” Brooks asserted.
However, Dylan Williams of the extreme left organization J Street, which has been widely accused of espousing blatantly anti-Israel policies, said that Hagel “would be an outstanding choice for secretary of defense, and we’d be surprised by any concerted effort by anyone claiming to represent [the] mainstream of the Jewish American community raising any opposition.”
“The center of the community is exactly where Sen. Hagel is on issues relating to Israel,” Williams claimed, according to Politico.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) said Friday he also thought Hagel would make “an excellent defense secretary.”
“He’s certainly very knowledgeable about our defense and our intelligence establishment. He has, without doubt, the personal skills that are important for a Cabinet officer,” Hamilton told Politico.
Soon after taking office, Obama named Hagel to an intelligence oversight board, which he still co-chairs with former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.). At that time, a top figure in Jewish Democratic circles voiced his opposition to a Hagel taking a more significant role.
“If [Hagel] was taking a policy role, we’d have real concerns,” Ira Forman, then the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told The Weekly Standard in 2009.
Obama is also considering Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy for the top defense post, according to administration officials.